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Rapid Recap: Suns beat twin-tower Wolves, 116-107, leading almost wire to wire

Cam Johnson had a season-high 29 points as the Suns beat the Wolves on TNT

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This was a battle of two of the league’s best defenses so far this season — Minnesota Timberwolves are ranked 6th while the Phoenix Suns are 4th — as neither team could get many open shots.

The Suns built an 11-point lead heading into the 4th quarter, but then the Wolves — with three starters back against an all-bench unit of the Suns — cut the Suns lead to two on a flurry of scores, 87-85 with 8:35 left.

Back come the Suns starters, who went on a quick 5-0 run - including Cam’s 6th three-point make in 10 tries — to the delight of the crowd and to give the Suns back from breathing room.

A minute and a patented Chris Paul right-side jumper later, and the Suns had a 96-88 lead back to force another Wolves timeout. The Wolves gave up on the Gobert/KAT tandem at that point.

Soon it was a 16-6 run with the starters, and another Wolves timeout. Suns led 103-91 with 4 minutes left.

Wolves back to Gobert and KAT again — that hasn’t worked yet, so why not try again?

With Booker sitting due to foul trouble, Paul went into f-u mode for a bit, including draining his first three of the game, to finish with a near triple-double and close out the Suns win.

Final score: Suns win, 116-107. They are now 6-1 on the young season, atop the West.

Fun stats:

  • Cam Johnson had 29 points, 3 steals. He had a season-high 11 three point attempts, making 7 of them.
  • Chris Paul finished with 15 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds, leading the team in the latter two categories. He also had 3 assists.
  • Devin Booker finished with 18 points, 5 assists and 7 rebounds.
  • Mikal Bridges had 19 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds.
  • Bismack Biyombo had 4 blocks while he and Landale spent the night boxing out bigger guys in the paint so the guards could dig down for the rebounds. They only tallied 5 rebounds between them in 46 minutes of play.
  • Dario Saric got 5 minutes, recording 3 points, 3 rebounds and an assist. Nice to see him out there!

Difference Maker

The Suns had Cam Johnson (29 points) ready to fire ALL NIGHT because his primary defender was 7-foot Karl-Anthony Towns, who’s being forced to play power forward next to 7’1” Rudy Gobert. Cam had space all night and used it. He’s only scored more than tonight’s 29 points one other time in his career. Y’all remember that game, right?

“Happy for him,” Mikal Bridges, self-proclaimed ‘twin’, said after the game. “Super happy.”

I continue to say I don’t have faith in the Gobert/Towns pairing, and at least tonight I was proven right. The Suns picked them apart, and forced the Wolves to go away from the twin towers several times.

First Half

Neither team made a basket until three minutes into the game. Both defenses were locked in, both giving up any easy buckets. Cameron Johnson and Mikal Bridges looked a bit intimidated by the Wolves sheer size, and the Wolves kept getting ball knocked away on drives.

After five minutes, the Suns started 2-11 from the field. and the Wolves were 2-8, until Cam Johnson finally made a three to tie the game at 7-7. Yes, you read that right. Five minutes in, and just 14 total points scored by the two teams.

It was a tough start for Devin Booker, who had missed three of four shots and committed two fouls by this time.

Eventually, the Suns realized they needed to target KAT on defense by moving him around screens, which left Cam Johnson open for good shots.

Towns got frustrated. He was super-active, but everything was frantic. He missed all three shots he took (badly) and just couldn’t even finish in the lane. He did make some very nice passes to his teammates, however, so maybe he’ll be the team’s primary playmaker in these lineups.

After starting 2-11, the Suns made 6 of their next 7 shots to take a 20-12 lead with a couple minutes left in the quarter. It’s an 18-5 run.

I keep thinking Booker is having a bad quarter, but he’s up to 8 points, 4 rebounds and an assist.

Minnesota ended the first quarter on an 6-0 run in the final minute, after Booker came out, to close the Suns lead to 24-20 after one.

As expected, the Suns centers have not done well on the stat sheet so far — combining for two points and one rebound. It’s going to have to be the shooting that wins this one — Booker, CP and the Cams have 21 of the Suns 24 points.

The Suns will be in trouble if they don’t keep making shots — Cam P and Landry Shamet are a combined 1-7 as the Wolves continue to cut the lead to two.

DARIO SIGHTING! He enters the game with the Suns leading 28-20, to play alongside Jock Landale in a two-kinda-big lineup against the Wolves’ double-down of Rudy and Naz Reid together while KAT rests. They really love these lineups eh.

The bench held their own, keeping the lead at 33-27 before starters started trickling back in for both teams.

The arena ERUPTED when Dario made a three on his first shot attempt. This line in his first three minutes of play: 1-1 (3), 2 rebounds, 1 assist. (smile)

Suns up 54-47 at halftime. Cameron Johnson leads the Suns with 17 points, and Anthony Edwards has 15 for the Wolves. Wolves out-rebound the Suns 28-22, as expected. Neither team topped 37% on field goals, a testament to their efforts on that end this year (both in the top 7).

Second Half

The Suns began to stretch the lead out in the third, making 6 of their first 7 shots to build a 69-52 lead and force a Wolves timeout.

The Suns are just so good at using mismatches. All game, Gobert had been stifling the Biyombo/Paul pick and roll, but there it was the second Gobert sat down and KAT took over at center.

The Suns built the lead to 74-56 on another Cam Johnson three (up to 23 points now, leading the Suns), but then took their foot off the gas and let Minnesota go on a 13-5 run to pull back to within 10.

Torrey Craig made a contested three right at the end of the quarter to help the Suns go into the 4th with a 84-73 lead. I’d like to rip the Suns for losing focus, but have to give the Wolves credit for really hustling in this one. Both defenses have been really good at contesting shots: the Suns have made only 41% while the Wolves have made just 37%. Almost half the Suns attempts have been three-pointers (35 of 72).

At that point the Wolves brought back three starters (Gobert, Edwards, Russell), increased their intensity, and got the Suns lead down to two as Cameron Payne went through one of his out-of-control phases and the Wolves capitalized — capped off by a pair of threes by Anthony Edwards. Timeout Suns. Lead down to just 87-85 with 8:35 left to play.

But then the Suns starters came back in and took over the rest of the game (scroll up for those details).

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